An iconoclastic coroner attempts to come to terms with demons from his past while tracking a palpable monster.
1977. In newly Communist Laos, septuagenarian Dr. Siri Paiboun is settling into the job of national coroner, thinking less about retirement and ruffling fewer official feathers than in his first rocky year on the job (The Coroner’s Lunch, 2004). He’s even mentoring his assistant, an equally quirky young woman named Dtui with an impressive talent for forensic investigation. The diverse array of puzzling cases challenging Siri begins with a pair of corpses from opposite sides of the tracks. But a larger case, perhaps of serial murder, looms as several people suffer fatal animal attacks, presumably by an escaped black mountain bear. Aided by vivid symbolic dreams interspersed throughout the narrative, Siri develops a different theory supported by the nature of the wounds, but the bureaucrats are as slow as ever to believe him. Along the way, Siri visits his sister-in-law’s rural home to settle unanswered questions about his dead wife, has a philosophical discussion with Laos’ exiled king, observes a Communist conference of shamans and rescues an imperiled Dtui from the brink of death.
Siri’s second is as entertaining as his debut. Clever chapter titles (“The Randy Russian,” “No Spontaneous Fun—by Order”) put tongue even further in cheek.